The water was rough from Hurricane Ida, which had passed by just a couple days prior to us arriving on Roatan, a small Caribbean island off the coast of Honduras. A heavy, dark cloud pressed in from above. Our motor boat zipped out the two miles to the tiny island that Anthony’s Key Resort had fashioned into the presentation area for those interested in learning about and snorkeling with the dolphins.
Just as we stepped into the water, the sky opened up and a light drizzle began to fall. Apparently Roatan usually has ideal, Caribbean weather, but the passing storm left a heavy current and no crowds in its wake. The dolphins were all ours to enjoy.
The rain was chilly, and after peeling off my capris and t-shirt, I waded out into the water and dipped down to my shoulders to suck up some of the natural heat from the sea. The water was clear, and I could see pieces of sea grass and small fish swimming around my legs.
One of the key differences with Anthony’s Key Resort in comparison to other standard dolphin encounters is that, at Anthony’s, the dolphins swim in the sea; they are not confined to a concrete enclosure. Instead, the natural enclosure is more than half an acre in surface area and is surrounded by a fencing structure that allows the water to freely flow in and out with the current. Occasionally the enclosure is opened and the dolphins join the instructors and trainers when they travel farther into the ocean for scuba diving courses. The dolphins almost always come back, though, as they definitely know where their nightly meals come from.
We began our experience with a 30-minute dolphin encounter, a structured lesson where a trainer told us about the dolphin who was educating our group. He explained the dolphin culture—how they communicate, what their lives are like—and taught us about the anatomy of dolphins. There are currently 24 bottlenose dolphins at Anthony’s Key Resort. There have been four births at the facility this year (two boys and two girls), the youngest of which was born November 10. We had the opportunity to run our hands along our dolphin’s skin, and she performed a number of nifty tricks for us.
While it was interesting to learn about the facility and the dolphins, the dolphin encounter felt a bit staged to me, especially when the photographer came out to join us in the water for a series of snapshots, available on shore for purchase once the excursion was complete. And I wasn’t a big fan of our trainer. He was obviously very passionate about working with the dolphins, but that’s where his passion was—not in trying to teach a handful of shivering girls about the animal. I would pass on the dolphin encounter if I returned.
But I was able to put all of that aside when the encounter ended and I slid on my flippers and snorkeling mask.
Beyond the shoreline, the dolphin enclosure sits above a huge reef, one of the largest in the world. I pushed off and was soon floating above a myriad of colorful fish, dancing sea grass and delicate coral formations. It wasn’t particularly beautiful, but the whole scene was so graceful and serene, especially since it was now pouring rain.
And then it happened … I heard a couple audible clicks and a dolphin swam into and out of my range of sight before I even had time to truly compute what had happened.
I was actually swimming with dolphins.
Time became non-existent as I floated next to the giant mammals. They didn’t mind in the least that I was swimming in their space. Nope, they just floated by—sometimes one, sometimes a few of them and twice I had the chance to see a larger dolphin with two small babies swimming by its side. Rain or sun, I was completely transported to a place I’d never been before.
One large dolphin swam up to me, nose first, and tossed a ball of kelp in my direction. I caught it in the water and tossed it back. The dolphin caught it in his mouth and threw it again in my direction. I laughed through my snorkel gear. Here I was … in Honduras in the middle of a rainstorm playing catch with a dolphin in the Caribbean Sea. It was a moment I will never forget.
My experience with the dolphins was paid for by the Honduras Institute of Tourism, but all opinions are my own. Photos courtesy of Anthony’s Key Resort.